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Democrats Hope to Reignite Enthusiasm from 2008 Presidential Election

September 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ray Suarez talks to Pew Research Center's Andy Kohut about the challenges facing Democrats in trying to reinvigorate enthusiasm for President Obama and how the gap favoring Democrats has been closed by white voters becoming more conservative.

GWEN IFILL: Can Democrats reignite the enthusiasm of 2008? Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center has been exploring shifts in attitudes to answer that question.

Ray spoke to him on the convention floor a short time ago.

RAY SUAREZ: Andy Kohut, a couple of years ago, the Democrats were looking at a long-term advantage in party allegiance. What’s happened during the Obama years?

ANDREW KOHUT, Pew Research Center: They have a lot of ground to pick up. They lost their advantage. They had a 51-39 percent advantage over the Republicans. It’s now down to five points, 48-43.

That’s a big change in four years. It’s mostly occurred among white voters, who now favor the Republicans or think of themselves as Republicans by a 13-percentage-point margin. Four years ago, whites were divided equally between the parties.

RAY SUAREZ: When you collect those statistics, do you ask people about why? Do we know what lies beneath this big shift?

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, a lot of it has to do with response to President Obama.

This reflects the disappointment that many voters feel about the way things have gone in the country since then. And the Democrats are disillusioned. Among the people who are still Democrats, they’re not following the news about the election the way they were four years ago.

Fewer of them say they care who wins the election. Republicans have a plurality or an advantage on both of those issues. Four years ago, Democrats, they were ready to go. Now it’s the Republicans who are more ready to go. The Democrats have to get things going.

RAY SUAREZ: Andy, is that different from previous cycles? If you’re a supporter of the party that’s in power at a time when Americans are feeling pessimistic, isn’t this just a natural outgrowth of what’s going on in the country?

ANDREW KOHUT: It’s partly a natural outgrowth, but we have had a lot of shifting around.

We had three or four national elections where we have gone from Democrats win, Democrats win, Republicans win. Now the Republicans are ahead. There’s a lot of volatility, even at a time when the public is pretty polarized.

RAY SUAREZ: Give us a quick look at your very telling statistics on young people.

ANDREW KOHUT: Yeah, a good deal of this disillusionment is among Republicans — among young people, because four years ago, 90 percent of them said, ‘Obama makes me feel hopeful.’ About the same percentage said, ‘I’m proud of Obama when I see him.’ Both of those numbers are 45, 46 percent. That’s a 35 percentage point, 80 — 40 percent decline. Extraordinary.

RAY SUAREZ: Have you ever seen something like that in such a short amount of time?


But then again, we have never seen the kind of burst of enthusiasm for a candidate among young voters or any age segment of voters the way we saw last time. It was an extraordinary thing.

RAY SUAREZ: Andy Kohut, thanks a lot.

ANDREW KOHUT: You’re welcome.

GWEN IFILL: And, on our Web site, you can take a quiz from the Pew Research Center to determine your political party I.D.